Instead of covering up the world's upheavals, cosmetics propel its devastation -- a great analytical joke by David Cronenberg, who has already the impeccable deadpan style to tell it. Virtually the entirety of the female populace has been decimated by "Rouge's Malady," hippiedom is next as some furry Renaissance Fest refugee is studied at the "House of Skin"; the subject expires in what looks like the court of the University of Toronto, trench-coated Dr. Adrian Tripod (Ronald Mlodzik) declares the secretion oozing from the body's mouth "sensually attractive," even, and takes off on a tour of wacky organizations (the Institute of Neo Venereal Diseases, the Oceanic Podiatry Group, the Gynecological Research Foundation, and so forth). One man sprouts weird organs which are kept in multi-colored jars ("His body is a galaxy. These creatures are solar systems"), another removes his shoe to reveal webbed toes on their way to becoming fins, and is promptly chased and devoured by a turtle-necked passerby, who re-enters the frame to spit a chunk of meat at the scientist. Devolution and cannibalism are merely two of the crimes of the future, pedophilia and the elusiveness of equilibrium are others, above all is the evanescence of human flesh against the solidity of brick walls, marble columns, cavernous halls; Dr. Tripod contemplates all in HAL's flat tones, with help from the assuredly avant-garde soundtrack (boiling coffee pots, stuttering birds, sonar pings). The handheld, 16mm filming allows itself a single instance of expressionism (the cabal's gathering in the darkened auditorium, recalled in Sleeper), yet for the most part remains a straightforward documentation of modernist Canada in 1970, the better to reveal the encroaching reality of the satirical sci-fi scenario (cf. Alphaville), along with the fecundity of themes to be mirrored by the rest of Cronenberg's work. With Jon Lidolt, Tania Zolty, Paul Mulholland, and Jack Messinger.
--- Fernando F. Croce